May 30th, 2011 / 8:29 am

Best book on Vietnam War: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, otherwise?


  1. adam m.

      dispatches – michael herr

  2. Oneiric Bazaar

      Meditations in Green – Stephen Wright.

  3. Jonathan6shipley

      The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

  4. Frank

      armies of the night

  5. Tanya

      Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

  6. Ryan Call

      my dad really liked matterhorn by karl malantes

      in addition to obriens thigns they carried and going after cacciato, i liked novel without a name by duong thu huong

      i think dispatches is still my favorite

  7. adrian

      Koko by Peter Straub.

  8. NME

      Definitely.  No other book can touch DISPATCHES.

  9. jmw

      Dien Cai Dau by Komunyakaa

  10. Adam Robinson

      I’m trying to read this now. Having a bit of trouble.

  11. Kathleenmrooney

      Another vote for DISPATCHES. 

  12. reynard

      motorman by david ohle

      best album? black monk time by the monks

  13. Your Guest

      I have a soft spot for Gustav Hasford’s THE SHORT-TIMERS.

      TREE OF SMOKE blows.

  14. GL

      Place: Dog Soldiers, Robert Stone.

  15. wmtwalsh

      Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien.

  16. Kevin Sampsell

      I haven’t read much of this kind of fiction, but I absolutely love Dirty Work by Larry Brown, which is more about the aftermath in two men’s lives. 

  17. Craig Ronald Marchinkoski

      i was just going to recommend this book. robert stone is class. and dog soldiers is tight.

  18. kevocuinn

      The Tunnels of Cu-Chi by Tom Mangold — best of non-fiction.

  19. deadgod

      An appropriate day for the question.

      I haven’t read all the books even on this list so far, but Dispatches is my favorite of what I’ve read.

      My favorite strictly-‘war’ novel is The Killer Angels – in a way, also a ‘Vietnam’ book.

      Favorite Vietnam movie:  Sundays and Cybele (Fr. Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray.

  20. Blemer

      The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh

  21. JKL

      Definitely Meditations in Green. 

      Lush, hallucinatory, acidly comic…it’s fucking amazing.

  22. JKL

      Definitely Meditations in Green. 

      Lush, hallucinatory, acidly comic…it’s fucking amazing.

  23. Peteyboymarkus


  24. Penina

      In Pharaoh’s Army by Tobias Wolff and The Things They Carried

  25. lorian long

      i took a class on ‘violence in 20th century american lit’ and read dispatches. thought ‘i hate tim o’brien and all vietnam-related fiction’ until i read that book. then i read denis johnson’s tree of smoke and now i think that book is KING of all vietnam fiction. 

  26. gfc

      Another vote for The Things They Carried

  27. Oneiric Bazaar

      I’ll second that album and third the Fall’s reworkings of two tracks off it.

  28. deadgod

      Tree of Smoke is one I haven’t yet (?) read.  Angels is an old favorite, I neither minded nor loved Fiskadoro, and, this weekend, I raced – I don’t think this pace damages the book – through Nobody Move.  On p. 131 (hardcover), there is this misprint (? – clothing is being talked of) in Nobody Move:

      stripped to the waste

      That phrasing seems likely to me to be a fine title for all of Johnson’s fiction.

  29. Johannesgoransson

      In poetry: Bly’s “teeth mother naked” is totally weird, Alice Notley’s “Descent of Alette” is kind of about Vietnam (or at least its aftermath), Bill Knott’s poems from the late 60s. Of course Dispatches is great. Bruce Franklin’s “Vietnam and Other Fantasies” is a really good scholarly/memoir/history book, among other things investigating the prevalent right-wing fantasy that lefties spat on soldiers all the time and the relationship between Rambo and Reagan etc.

  30. karl taro

      novel: Paco’s Story by Larry Heineman
      non-fiction: dispatches

  31. TDR

      Song of Napalm by Bruce Weigl

  32. SometimesLurker

      Two short-stories come to mind: Pugilist at Rest, Thom Jones; Midnight and I’m Not Famous Yet, Hannah

      The Pugilist at Rest collection has a few other Vietnam related stories that are pretty wow.

  33. SometimesLurker

      Speaking of war stories, just read your latest in One-Story. Totally bitchin’.

  34. Chazz

      would say this was a disruption of the plot, a disconnection, a loss of
      perspective. They’d say this style proved the writer’s inherent
      weakness: his spirit was willing but his flesh wasn’t.” (Ninh, 230)

  35. leapsloth14

      good call on Hannah. Weirdly re-read that story from Aships today.

  36. leapsloth14

      What did you thing of T of Smoke’s ending? I sort of thought it disinterested.

  37. leapsloth14

      What blows about it? doesn’t it start strong then start to blow?

  38. leapsloth14


  39. cmp

      Also, Toys in a Field by Yusef Komunyakaa

  40. Rodeo Toad

      I’m a Johnson fan, but I can make it through only one out of about every three books he writes, and this wasn’t one of them.  It seemed a storyless ambing mess to me.

  41. Rodeotoad

      Tobias Wolff’s “In the Pharoah’s Army” was pretty good, as I recall, though not as strong as “This Boy’s Life.”

  42. Jacob I. Evans

      The Girl in The Picture by Denise Chong, The Quiet American by Graham Green, Novel Without A Name Duong Thu Huong, Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh

  43. Walter1991

      Yup. Can’t really fuck with Dispatches. I also enjoyed Tree of Smoke, and I’d be curious to see the comments about its blowing expanded on.

  44. karl taro

      thank you thank you

  45. Matthew Salesses

      the things they carried. for sure.

  46. John Minichillo

      Larry Heinemen came to visit a class I was in when Paco’s Story was a NBA finalist. The teacher, a female, read us an excerpt that was in Playboy and Heineman smoked a cigar in class. This was back when a sign would be Painted on the chalkboard, “No Smoking in Class.”

      I would add Robert Olen Butler’s A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain.

  47. John Minichillo

      Larry Heinemen came to visit a class I was in when Paco’s Story was a NBA finalist. The teacher, a female, read us an excerpt that was in Playboy and Heineman smoked a cigar in class. This was back when a sign would be Painted on the chalkboard, “No Smoking in Class.”

      I would add Robert Olen Butler’s A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain.

  48. karl taro

      Paco’s Story won the National Book Award that year. But you know, Close Quarters, Heineman’s other Vietnam War novel was also terrific, but more a straight up war book. Paco’s Story has a Dear Hunterish aspect that makes it seem grander in scope. But Close Quarters, that was a great one as well.
      No one seems to have mentioned Rumor of War, which was also damn good.

  49. Anonymous

      Pre-US involvement:

      Straight-up non-fiction: Bernard Fall, Hell in a Very Small Place
      Fiction: Grahame Greene, The Quiet American

  50. Oneiric Bazaar

      Jesus. We’ve gotten this far without a single mention of Gravity’s Rainbow.

  51. leapsloth14

      Love Graham Greene

  52. Nathan Huffstutter

      Dense book, not everyone’s read it. Also it, uh, ain’t about Vietnam.

  53. Joseph Riippi

      I’m not going to defend the whole thing because it’s been too long, but that opening half dozen pages of TREE OF SMOKE with the monkey and private rival any pages of fiction for heart and language I’ve ever read.

  54. Oneiric Bazaar

      only if Altman’s MASH is only about the Korean War….

  55. Nathan Huffstutter

      Between the novel about WWII and the movie about the Korean War, which is your favorite book about Vietnam?

  56. deadgod

      Well, Pynchon is a ’50s/’60s guy, and, to me, anyway, Gravity’s Rainbow – I’m a huge fan of that of his novels – is a curdled-disillusionment book, surely informed (‘structured inwardly’) by the American (national) swallowing and puking up/explosively shitting of military adventure in Vietnam. 

      But Gravity’s Rainbow is a crisis-of-European-modernity story, not an Americans-fuck-up-at-the-top-and-get-violent-all-the-way-down story.  “America” isn’t the ‘villain’ in Gravity’s Rainbow – and, though (no spoiler) corporatism is the Devil, the deviltry is played out in unmistakably and ineradicably western European places and ways.  You might say, a Henry-James ‘American’ lostness – but in a concrete Europe, not a jungle.  There’s clarity:  Slothrop figures out – and so do we – what his connection to the V-2 rockets is. – to deny that ratiocinatory, eh, project seems essential – at least ’til now – to the American imagining of “Vietnam”.

      MASH is hippies-in-the-‘army’ – okay:  the cliche of ‘Vietnam, not Korea’ obtains, but you could even say ‘Podunk State, not real war’.

      I’d suggested earlier that The Killer Angels is a ‘kind’ of Vietnam book because the writer lived through that consciousness of failure of the country to deserve patriotism.  That’s too much of a stretch:  Shaara successfully (albeit fictively) told his story at Gettysburg at the turn a Joolah, 18 an 63.  I think Pynchon does a similar thing with Slothrop in western Europe.

  57. deadgod

      The Big Valley

  58. deadgod

      [This question is probably for you, lorian.]

  59. Oneiric Bazaar

      Thanks for your comments. I enjoyed reading them. I’m sure there’s something to be said regarding Heidegger’s comparison of German and American weltanschauung, privileging the former with a sigh, though let’s leave well enough alone.

      My own nomination can be found second from the start. My comment about GR was just an expression of surprise that no one had mentioned it in the first 50 comments.

  60. Oneiric Bazaar


      So you succeeded in getting a crowd of adult humans to bleat off like sheep about our Viet favorites. But you haven’t chimed in, nor have you mentioned your purpose in posing this question. Please do so.

  61. Oneiric Bazaar

      Lost sheep to shepherd: please come in.